BEL AIR, Md. - People flooding the sidewalks of Main Street on their blankets and camping chairs, rocking their ugly sweaters, Christmas carols echoing down the street, the smell of fresh-baked cookies and hot cocoa lingering in the cold winter air, and more than a mile of smiley faces was something to behold at the town of Bel Air on the first Sunday of December, 2018.
Leaders from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, out of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, led the 29th annual Bel Air Christmas Parade down Main Street behind Susan Burdette, the town's mayor, last Sunday.
Brig. Gen. Jim Bonner and Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Graham, commander and command sergeant major for the 20th CBRNE Command, led the group composed of the their color guard, a Humvee and its crew.
"There is no greater honor than to be selected to march with the US Army Colors in a public event," said the Miami, Florida native Pfc. Donovan Rodriguez, information technology specialist for the 20th CBRNE Command. "It gave me a nice feeling when I heard all the people clapping as me and my battle buddies marched down Main Street."
For Graham, who is getting ready to retire in a few weeks, it was his third Christmas parade in Bel Air.
"I had a blast, but unfortunately it will be my last one," said Graham, a native of Warren, Ohio. "The 20th CBRNE has always supported the great community of Bel Air, and they love us. They always ask for the best color guard north of the Potomac, and that's us."
Monroeville, New Jersey native, Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Smashey, secretary to the general staff's operations sergeant, was impressed with the support of the local community.
"Throughout my years in the Army, I have always been amazed at the turn-out and support the local communities have shown us," said Smashey. "It is great to come out to one of the local events and repay all of the support we have received. We love to support them just as much as they support us."
The group was followed by marching bands, beauty queens, Girl and Boy Scout troops, dogs, sheep and even some fire baton twirlers.
According to Sgt. John Sutton Jr, the driver for the 20th CBRNE commander, people were enjoying the event before the parade even started.
"Many children had never seen a Humvee in real life or up close, but we were able to show kids the inside of the Humvee as well as all the equipment we use to communicate," said the Panama City, Florida native.
The parade took the festivities all the way to Shamrock Park for a tree lighting ceremony where visitors were greeted with live music, sugar cookies, more hot cocoa and a 10-foot-tall bonfire.
"It was great going down Main Street and hearing the people saying 'merry Christmas' or even 'thank you for your service'", said Sutton, who drove the Humvee during the parade. "Seeing some of the children's faces light up, or the look of 'wow' just makes you smile. It means so much."